Oman expands aviation infrastructure to boost tourism

Oman is pushing ahead with efforts to boost tourism numbers through the expansion of its aviation infrastructure.

The country attracts a majority of its tourists from Arabian Gulf countries, which contribute 73 per cent of its tourist numbers. The next biggest market is Europe with tourists from Italy, Germany and the UK. This year, about 1.14 million people are expected to visited the country, a rise of 3 per cent on 2014, according to Business Monitor Index.

Tourism revenues in the country are expected touch US$2.24 billion this year, up 5 per cent year on year, BMI said. The government is more optimistic, however.

“This year, we expect a growth in tourist numbers of about 10 per cent from that of last year,” said Maitha Al Mahrouqi, the undersecretary of Oman’s ministry of tourism.

“Oman is positioned as a stable country, economically and politically, and it is attracting [an increased number of] tourists in line with the massive investment from government in the tourism sector.”

Oman is not a signatory to the open skies policy, but instead hands out landing rights to airlines. Muscat airport has about 30 airlines flying in and out of the country.

This week, the Public Authority for Civil Aviation invited companies in Oman to establish a commercial low-cost carrier in the Sultanate.

When the first phase of the Muscat airport expansion is complete by the end of next year or early 2017, it will be able to handle 12 million passengers a year, up from 7 million currently. When it is fully operational, it will be able to handle 36 million passengers, Ms Al Mahrouqi said.

The expanded Salalah airport, with a capacity of 3 million passengers, is expected to open towards the end of next year.

“It would give a potential for more flight frequencies,” Ms Al Mahrouqi said.

An open skies policy runs the risk of national carrier Oman Air facing intense competition in Muscat that could harm its own expansion plans given the lack of financial power to push back compared to other Gulf-based airlines, according to analyst Saj Ahmad at London-based StrategicAero Research.

“Oman have relied on organic growth for its aviation industry, and have sealed accords with other countries to benefit Oman Air as opposed to going for open skies deals,” he said.

“They are protecting their home base while making piecemeal deals that allow for growth but without the constant threat of competition that could prove harmful.”

In the first quarter, about 2.41 million people used Muscat International Airport, up 8.9 per cent from 2.21 million during the same period last year.

Salalah Airport reported 217,669 passengers in the first quarter, up 12.6 per cent from 193,383, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information.

Hoteliers are also making a slow move into the country.

Among these are the Westin, St Regis, W and Ritz-Carlton Reserve brands. Under way are the $840 million mixed-use development Saraya Bandar Jissah Resort and Kempinski, Louis Vuitton and Fairmont properties.

A number of resorts will be completed soon including the 700-room Shati Salalah resort this year and the Alila Resort Salalah with 125 rooms and 46 residential units and 49 villas next year.

By 2017, the 550-room Yiti Resort with 1,100 residential units and villas and Saraya Bandar Jissah are expected to open their doors.

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